Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bring your fists of fury and fingers of fun to raise money for cancer research

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One hand. Three gestures. Thousands of dollars in cash and prizes.

Are you ready to rock, Winnipeg?

If so, please note that an "internationally recognized rock is represented with a closed fist with the thumb resting at least at the same height as the topmost finger of the hand."

And be warned that "use of rock as an opening move is seen by many players to be a sign of aggression," according to the World Rock Paper Scissors Society's website.

What's that? You didn't know that your childhood decision-making hand game was a competitive sport with a governing body and championship tournaments that draw serious competitors from around the globe?

Now that you do, you may want to start training -- there's an online trainer at -- for a big fundraising throwdown on Sept. 29 that could put Winnipeg on the rock-paper-scissors map.

It's called Handemonium and it's in support of Colon Cancer Canada. If more than 1,150 Winnipeggers lend a hand to the cause -- colon cancer is the third most common cancer and second most common cause of death from cancer among Canadians -- it'll be the largest tournament of its kind in Canada. (The record is currently held by Colonel By Secondary School in Ottawa.)

"With no disrespect whatsoever to other charity fundraisers, there's a massive amount of runs, walks and bikes out there. I wanted to come up with something unique and fun that would appeal to everybody," says Handemonium organizer Jeff Wall, 38, who lost his father to colon cancer 19 years ago.

"Meanwhile, here's a simple game many people have been playing their whole lives."

Simple game?

Fox SportsNet broadcast the World RPS Society's 2004 championship in a one-hour special. In 2006, the World Society became embroiled in a public squabble with the U.S.A. Rock Paper Scissors League when the former accused the latter of cheapening the "grand sport" by signing a sponsorship deal with the Bud Light brand. It made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The dispute was also covered in the 2007 documentary Rock Paper Scissors: A Geek Tragedy.

More on that later.

For the uninitiated, Rock, Paper, Scissors -- also known as Roshambo or Jan Ken Pon -- is an ancient, two-person method of resolving trivial disputes where the players simultaneously "throw" hand signals representing the elements of rock, paper and scissors at each other on a count of four. (Three pumps of the fist, in unison, before the throw.)

Rock beats scissors, which defeats paper, which wins over rock.

Handemonium has been sanctioned by the World RPS Society, so whoever wins the Winnipeg tournament will be crowned the 2012 Canadian champion.

The title of heavyweight champion, however, will go to a competitor among those who raise more than $250. And that's the true purpose of the competition, says Wall: raising awareness and money.

"Colon cancer is the second-biggest cancer-related killer of Canadian men and women, but they're now saying it's up to 95 per cent preventable with early detection -- which is mind-blowing," says Wall, who also publishes a one-page weekly news sheet called Free Jive.

"So a massive part of this event is about education and awareness and getting people to realize, 'Hey, I need to get my colonoscopy."

The tournament will be divided into three "weight" classes based on how much money participants raise, with $250 the minimum for qualifying as a heavyweight. There's a $1,500 cash prize for winning that division, $500 for middleweight and $250 for lightweight.

Handemonium has also launched a free school team challenge. The Winnipeg school -- team size unlimited -- that raises the most money will win a $500 Boston Pizza party.

Of course, even if you register as part of a team, you'll be competing individually, since this is a one-on-one competition. Celebrity referees will be on hand to officiate the matches, which will take place at tables in Shaw Park's outfield.

Elsewhere in the ballpark there will be a series of 60-second challenges, inspired by the reality TV show Minute to Win It, where contestants of all ages can try their hand at 20 different stunts and win a $1,000 prize.

"So this won't be a case of you raise your money, come out and lose at rock, paper and scissors and then go home," Wall says. "There'll be plenty of activities for the whole family."

Participants get into the park free. Admission for everyone else is $5 for individuals or $15 per family. The Goldeyes concessions will be up and running, so there will be food and beverages (including beer).

Given Rock, Paper, Scissors's reputation for keeping the peace, it only seems fitting that the world governing body is based out of Canada.

Doug Walker, 41, admits he had tongue firmly in cheek when, inspired by a drunken evening with his brother, Graham, at their parents' cottage in Ontario in 1995, he set out to become the world's leading authority on Rock, Paper, Scissors.

It was a cold evening and neither brother wanted to go outside to fetch more wood. Fists started flying, so to speak.

"It was something like a best-of-13 match, but involved in that, along with a little bit of alcohol, was a lot of trash talking, Walker says over the phone from Calgary, where he works at an advertising agency.

"It was at that moment that we realized there was more to this game than it seemed or that we played as kids."

Walker, then living in Toronto, did a little research and discovered a dormant society with origins in the U.K. He and his brother resurrected the club with a new website (, which attracted an online community and eventually led to an annual tournament -- and interviews with such media outlets as Rolling Stone magazine, the New York Times, the BBC and the Today Show.

"The crowning glory for me was front page of the Wall Street Journal. I even got one of those little wood-cut drawings," says Walker, managing director of the World RPS Society, the membership of which was around 10,000 at its peak. The Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide, which he co-authored with his brother, has sold 13,000 copies.

Walker will be in Winnipeg on Sept. 29 to serve as grand marshall for the Handemonium fundraising tournament and officiate over some of the final matches.

Rock, Paper, Scissors may be an "absurdly simple game," but he maintains it is indeed a game of strategy.

"The second you have two people involved who have memory, who are subject to power of suggestion, who have natural human tendencies, all of a sudden it ceases to be any random element and it's more about how to play your opponent," Walker says.

The game is primarily about solving decisions, whether it's who gets the last slice of pizza or sits in the front of the car.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 18, 2012 D1


Updated on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at 11:54 AM CDT: Corrects qualifications for heavyweight champion.

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